A Green Criminological Take on the BSC in Lincoln

The BSC Annual Conference 2019 in Lincoln from a PGR perspective.

EGladkova

Ekaterina Gladkova holds a BSc in International Relations and an MSc in International Development. She is currently conducting PhD research that focuses on the links between farming intensification and environmental (in)justice and has its roots in green criminology.

 

 

My first BSC Annual Conference ‘Public Criminologies: Communities, Conflict and Justice’ held at the University of Lincoln in 2019 was an intellectually invigorating and socially exciting event. Over 200 papers were presented, illuminating different aspects of the current criminological research and engaging with the pressing social and environmental issues. The latter was particularly significant to me because it resonated with my personal academic interest in green criminology and provided an opportunity to catch up with the research of others working in the same field. Great sessions that intersected environmental problems with the criminological discipline, such as Capitalism and Environmental Harm; Deviance and Social Control in an Age of Ecological Disorganization, were held. Two roundtables – Green Criminology and The Intersection of Indigenous, Cultural, Southern and Green Criminologies – gave an opportunity to debate about harms and crimes against the environment and discuss prevention strategies both within and beyond Western knowledge structures.  Moreover, a plenary on Climate Change and Criminology from Professor Rob White continued breaking criminological silence on one of the defining issues of our time – global warming – and discussed how criminology can both address the issues around climate change denial as well as engage with climate change mitigation and adaptation. Yet, one of the highlights of the green criminological strand of the BSC 2019 was the launch of Green Criminology Research Network during the roundtable titled Green Criminology: The Past, Present and Future. The roundtable discussed the origins of green criminology, synthesised its current developments, and outlined some directions for the future of this area.

I also had an opportunity to present my paper during the PGR segment of the conference, illuminating one particular aspect of my research. An underlying theme of my research is food production, as I aim to advance the criminological understanding of both isolated deviancy and systemic harm featuring in the fabric of modern food systems. The research adopts a socio-legal approach, scrutinising a particular routine practice that underlies the modern-day meat production: industrial farming. While this large-scale, high input / high output, technology-based practice results in environmental and social grievances (Passas, 2005) as well as severe harm to animals (Wyatt, 2014), it nevertheless is the chosen mode of meat production globally. It, therefore, can be seen as an ‘ordinary harm’ (Agnew, 2013) that contributes to environmental destruction and undermines social cohesion.

Some countries jump on the bandwagon of industrial farming as they decide to re-structure the way they farm and Northern Ireland is one of them. A sharp increase in the number of industrial pig and poultry farms was reported in 2017 (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 2017). Industrial, or intensive, farms refer to the farms that house at least 40,000 poultry birds or 2,000 pigs grown for meat or 750 breeding pigs. The number of such farms in Northern Ireland went up by 68% from 154 in 2011 to 259 in 2017 (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 2017). In addition to the global dynamic in farm intensification, an industry-led Going for Growth (GfG) strategy adopted by the Northern Irish government in 2013 also provided an impetus to intensify meat production. My research takes the case study of pig farming intensification to analyse this alarming trend.

Farming intensification threatens an already fragile natural environment in Northern Ireland and also has detrimental consequences for human health and wellbeing. The paper I presented at the BSC 2019 used an environmental justice perspective to analyse farming intensification through the lens of a community affected by this phenomenon. It discussed environmental harms and risks from the existing farms in the area that the community is currently exposed to and suggested that these harms are likely to be exacerbated as pig farming intensification gathers pace. I also looked at the opportunities for the local residents to engage in environmental decision-making around intensive farm projects. The latter appear to be limited and I concluded that farming intensification in Northern Ireland is marked by recognitional and procedural environmental injustice.

The BSC Annual Conference was a perfect opportunity to present this work as it resonated with the main theme of the conference – Communities, Conflict and Justice – and showed how an ‘ordinary harm’ of farming intensification can produce a local conflict that reveals the flaws in environmental decision-making procedures.

Overall, my first BSC Annual Conference experience was very positive and I am looking forward to the next year’s conference!

Contact

Ekaterina Gladkova, PhD researcher at Northumbria University in Newcastle,

e.gladkova@northumbria.ac.uk

@EkatGladkova

Images: courtesy of the author and CopyrightFreePhotos

Attending my first ever Academic Conference

An account of my experience, as a first year PhD student, at the British Society of Criminology Conference 2019.

CHerriott2019

 

Charlotte Herriott is a first year PhD researcher at Anglia Ruskin University, researching the impact of sexual history evidence upon mock jury deliberations in rape trials in England and Wales.

 

From the first few weeks of enrolling on my PhD, there seemed to be some sort of buzz about academic conference season. My supervisor, the doctoral school and peers alike all spoke of attending academic conferences throughout their academic careers: to present work, hear about other research being undertaken in the field, and to network with other academics.

To me – being shy, kind of awkward and having the most atrocious memory when it comes to anything academic that I have read – academic conferences sounded scary, intimidating and dare I say, a bit boring. I was definitely anxious about the prospect of having to engage in deep, academic discussion and seeming like I didn’t belong in the academic world, and I really didn’t want to stand up in front of a room full of people and get grilled on my research decisions. So academic conferences were something I tried to put to the back of my mind as these were ‘ages away,’ right?

Wrong! I know everyone says it, but three years really isn’t that long to get a PhD done! All of a sudden I appear to be approaching the end of my first year as a PhD student – whilst still sometimes feeling just as lost and confused as I did back in September – and safe to say, it’s flown by.

Anyway, conference season well and truly approached me.

My supervisor recommended that I submit an abstract for the British Society of Criminology conference. So, trying to impress, but secretly hoping that I got rejected, I sent off my abstract and shortly received that bitter sweet email to tell me that my abstract had been accepted.

The next hurdle was funding. Unfortunately my department had no funding available for me to attend the BSC conference and being a student I didn’t exactly have the spare cash lying around to pay for this myself. Thankfully the BSC run a postgraduate bursary programme for students like myself who are struggling to gather the conference fee and I was lucky enough to receive this award meaning that I was funded to attend the whole conference.

Soon enough, the time came around for me to travel to Lincoln, full of trepidation, to attend my first ever academic conference. Turns out – I had nothing to worry about!

First of all, I was expecting masses of people and huge lecture theatres with presenters presenting to hundreds of people at a time. Yes the plenary sessions (keynotes) may have had around a hundred people – but the panel presentations were given in normal classrooms to up to about 25-30 people: much less intimidating!

Not only this, but the gruelling interrogation that I was expecting presenters to get from their clued-up academic audience, was also far from reality. In practice, the atmosphere throughout the conference was thoroughly supportive, friendly and constructive. Questions tended to be helpful and triggered useful and engaging discussion, not only for presenters but definitely for myself and others in the audience of these talks. The discussions had during and after presentations therefore gave me useful insights into different perspectives and enabled me to really reflect on my own research decisions.

Having never previously studied criminology myself (I did law at undergrad and sociology at masters) I was also slightly apprehensive that I would not understand a lot of the presentations or that these would not be applicable to me (researching sexual violence). Again, this was a complete misapprehension as there were so many different panel talks on at once and always something applicable to my field. These talks were consistently engrossing and worthwhile, making me consider and question my research decisions and ultimately helping me to produce a clearer plan of how I undertake my own research and what to examine in my literature review.

I presented my research poster at the postgraduate conference, which turned out to be extremely valuable and beneficial. Lots of people gathered round the various posters and were really engaged and positive about the research being presented. As I’m sure is the case for many PhD students and academics; once you start talking about your research, you can go on for hours! So it was really nice to be in this informal- but expert – environment and discuss my research decisions, background to my research and my own findings with others in the field. And much to my own shock, I managed to win the poster prize of a £75 SAGE voucher, which was an absolute bonus and a real boost for me to realise that others in the field commended my work.  I was previously told that a poster presentation is great Viva practice, as you have to explain your research and defend your decisions and conclusions – so it was great to have this kind of experience and receive constructive feedback on my work. Whilst it had been something I was anxious about, I actually really enjoyed it.

Finally – the social side and the dreaded ‘networking.’ This was probably the part of academic conferences that I was most nervous about, but in reality turned out to be the best part of my conference experience. I had been nervous that everyone would be involved in deep, intellectual discussion and that I wouldn’t know what to say or who to talk to. In practice, all those who I met at the conference were completely down to earth and easy to get along with. I met a great bunch of PhD students and made some amazing friends who I will definitely keep in touch with. We are constantly told about mental health during the PhD and the isolating experience of conducting PhD research, so to meet other people going through the process and having the same difficulties, worries and fears was absolutely invaluable. At times, we did chat about our research, feminist theory, and methodological choices etc. but this was always useful and interesting to gain other people’s insights: not scary, intimidating or over my head at all. Also at times, we just chatted about anything and everything and had a great laugh.

So what do I take away from my first academic conference?

  1. Some amazing friends and a brilliant ‘network’
  2. Conferences are definitely nothing to fear (and are actually so much fun)
  3. I have learnt not to be scared to present research at a conference – this experience is invaluable
  4. To attend the BSC Conference 2020!

 

Contact

Charlotte Herriott, Anglia Ruskin University

Website: https://sites.google.com/view/charlotteherriottresearcher

Twitter: @CHerriott6

Images: courtesy of the author

Criminology and Policing – meeting in the middle

It was a great experience, and I would recommend that people apply for the bursary next year if they can.

GarethStubbs

Gareth Stubbs is a PhD student at Canterbury Christ Church Police Research Centre and has an MSc in Leadership and Mgmt in Policing from Warwick Business School, and an MRes in PoIicing (also from Canterbury). He has also collected a Law degree and English Language Degree on his travels, and has now been a serving Police Officer for over 16 years at the time of writing. Gareth is passionate about using good research in Policing and believes that better partnerships between police and academia represents a good proportion of the future.

I’m writing this blog after being lucky enough to attend the British Society of Criminology (BSC) annual conference at Birmingham City University. Before the usual eye rolls about conference attendance, I shall hopefully address some of what they actually ‘do’ later, so please save your scepticism until after reading 🙂 I also need to clarify that I received a bursary (the Post-grad Bursary from the BSC itself) to attend the conference and apart from Conference food and drink, I paid for all my own and won’t be claiming any of it back – why is this important? Because for some reason, we shout ‘tax payers money‘ at officers who want to learn and develop. It’s a bit like members of the public shouting at officers who eat during their shift. Clearly it’s very positive that serving officers are trying to keep their blood sugar levels up whilst on duty, just as it’s positive that officers are trying to learn more about their job, so that they can make better decisions when actually doing it.

That aside, I’m hoping that this blog may create some debate – as they often do. Whilst the Academic Illuminati© seek to overthrow the police Resistance, I am reminded that in many, many cases, police officers have had no contact with what academia does, or how it does it, and subsequently what it may mean for practice. Policing is easy to criticise when you have no knowledge of doing it, as many police officers will be aware as they receive public complaints about how they do their jobs. It is therefore incredibly disappointing to see police officers decrying results of surveys/studies by attacking the survey questions or the method of investigation – all of which has been heavily considered by people who often have many years of experience compiling them. It’s totally fine to raise questions, of course, that’s part of what academia is all about. But as with many things, it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

Bearing this in mind, let’s discuss some of what an academic conference ‘does‘ and ‘is‘.

Broadly speaking, groups of people involved in study within a particular area, come together to present ‘papers’ on what they are studying, or questions that they feel are important. This means that you can see presentations on many topics, that are often investigated in many different ways. There tends to be a main lecture theatre for what are called ‘Keynote’ speakers, and several break out rooms that then present in more niche areas. You get the program in advance, and are able to choose which break outs you attend, in addition to the main speakers that form what could be called the backbone of the conference. There are usually several speakers that speak in the area that you are interested in, so you get to tailor who you meet and learn from.

Warning: Long words ahead (sorry, not sorry :-D)

In the BSC, I got sample a really broad selection of what Criminology is/does/represents. It’s quite a strange discipline because it encompasses lots of different methods. What do I mean by this? To give an example, Psychology is dominated by statistical analysis of experimental outcomes. This means that there is a ‘way’ of conducting and learning about psychology that is broadly accepted as the norm. In criminology, this ‘way’ is disparate and some may say, fractured. There are functionalist approaches – these look at broad effects using statistical methods – think census data or similar, but equally there are symbolic interactional approaches (bear with me, please) that look at face-to-face communication and the meaning that we convey in inter-personal encounters. Similarly, there are action research projects ongoing within forces/prisons – these tend to involve practitioners and academics working together to design and conduct research, that would clash spectacularly with the experimental, randomised control trial led research championed by Prof. Larry Sherman at Cambridge. This last strata was largely absent at the BSC, but can be found going great guns at the Society of Evidence Based Policing (SEBP) conferences.

Above all of these, there is a strand of theoretical, philosophical research that looks at what we consider to be knowledge, and tracks/develops trends in thinking over time. This is the big stuff and I get lost in it. It’s nice to do the mental gymnastics around it if you are into that stuff, but from my perspective, the application to practice is remote. I appreciate this may be from a point of ignorance (mine of course), but for the bobby on the beat, or the investigator in the office, it is just too far removed to mean anything.

So what does this tell us about Criminology and how it can help us police? It actually tells us a lot. There are pockets of researchers and methods that we can take advantage of and use for every area of policing, we just have to be able to know how to use them, where to use them, and what they will give us at the end. Criminology presents us with a smorgasbord of options to choose from, we as a profession have to be careful not to limit them or shut them down.

So what does the products look like? What do the outcomes of using academia actually do?

This is a good question, and to properly understand it, we have to understand what science and the application of the scientific method actually is. Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as a single sentence, but I like to try and wrap it up as ‘a particular way of thinking about the world.’ This way encompasses lots of questions, tests, observations, reports and then usually re-testing to check that what you did the first time around actually works. People who don’t see this as valuable will denigrate it in the usual ways, by saying it takes too long, or that it’s biased, or that academia isn’t the ‘real world.’ Quite weird really, as all academia does is examine the ‘real world…’ using more rigorous thinking than would usually be the case?

Back to products. What does a conference actually produce? It’s quite weird for me as an officer to see researchers from different universities watch a ‘paper’ (presentation) and then say, ‘Your research is really interesting and I think we can work together‘ during the questions part, only to see them deep in conversation over coffee in the next ten minutes with contact details exchanged. You don’t see this in cop conferences really, they can get a bit ‘peacock-ey‘ where forces appear to be more in competition with each other than they do collaboration. The College has developed some Peer Review functions and started to gather a uniformed set of ‘evidence’ that seeks to combat the peacock stuff, but it’s refreshing to hear people at the conference speak about forging connections with people both inside and outside their area as a major motivator for attending. I get the impression that these groups of researchers working together to advance their understanding in their area is really rare in policing – I think forces tend to forge ahead with projects in isolation and only come together after everything has been delivered (and it’s always delivered – of course!).

Practical stuff? Well, I saw a whole bunch of presentations that would help me if I worked in Neighbourhood Policing (legitimacy research and community engagement), Response Policing (mainly body worn video and technology but also missing from homes), and Policing in general (diversity, Senior Women in Policing and others). I also attended one paper (really trying to use this word as it feels weird to me) where they discussed the legal frameworks around implementing decision making models based on algorithms in policing. These are landing in forces now, and I found the presentation fascinating. It was delivered by a Law Senior Lecturer (Dr. Jamie Grace), and discussed the real risks around bringing these models into the policing environment. I passed that straight back to senior officers in force who are discussing some of these models, and it may mean that we make far better decisions down the line. Ultimately, seeing that one presentation, may save tens of thousands of pounds of tax payer’s cash…

So, more generally, I think I was the only attending officer at the conference, although there were several that were retired or had left the service prior. I was welcomed by everyone (and this was a big conference). I felt a bit swamped by the theory stuff (and I do actually enjoy that stuff), and got lost in the odd question about particular scientific methods. I did take some tangible things away that will help with my job, and managed to spend the vast majority of it learning about research ongoing around the country in criminology that directly affects policing. It was a great experience, and I would recommend that people apply for the bursary next year if they can. To apply, you have to be a member of the BSC, and there’s an annual fee that is manageable if you are studying (yes, I pay for it myself).

Aside from the conference, the title of this blog professes to discuss how criminology and policing interacts. Although I haven’t addressed this directly, I think I have covered some of it, but will put it into more practical terms now: Applying science to policing changes the way that we think. This change is threatening. If I’ve spent my entire career gathering experience, and then someone with none of it comes along and tells me some of my fundamental beliefs are actually incorrect, how am I likely to react? We have seen it happen with ‘fake news,’ politics over the last few years, and more recently seen it analysed after the Brexit and Trump vote. The natural reaction is to double down into our established identity, and denigrate the ‘other’, no matter how much evidence is presented. This is happening now in policing, and it’s happening as the two identities of policing and academia become closer than just touching distance.

These conferences are a place of ‘between.’ What does this mean? It means that practitioners will never be truly comfortable in the academic environment, just as I suspect academics may not be comfortable at wholly practitioner based events. This merging will take many, many years, because you can’t just knock down a pillar of a profession overnight. In this case, the way that police idolise and fetishise experience as the only way of learning anything remains steadfast, and baulks at the encroachment of book learning or research. Mixed areas where experience ‘clashes’ with this different way of learning are places of friction, and anyone navigating this relationship has a challenge on their hands. Remaining ‘police’, whilst developing to think differently means treading a tightrope of identity, and falling off is a real possibility. These events are a way to practise, see both sides, and see those opportunities that allow both to be pulled together for the greater good. If you are one of these practitioners, be prepared to make sacrifices on both sides, as you lose your balance occasionally. At some point in the future, the tightrope will become a beam, and then finally a path, but the journey from here to there won’t be easy.

When we are seeking to place the academic ‘conference’ as thing into the realm of policing, we have to have a serious think about what it can ‘do.’ From this experience, making sure that people have an opportunity to network outside of their immediate police environment is very important – it drags their perceptions wider and can change decision making in their jobs on a daily basis. Gaining contacts in a specific field of research means that you can throw out questions that may be very difficult to answer in the police environment, to people who know the answer very quickly. The ability to do this can not be undervalued – it’s very important for operational policing. And finally, as a practitioner attempting to forge a path between the two – rather than skipping from one to the other – it’s important that academia acknowledges that the police aren’t just listening and conversing with research, they are doing it too. It’s an opportunity for both to learn from each other.

A final note for practitioners. If you are lucky enough to be asked to attend one of these events, or persistent enough to forge your own path into one, have a hard think about how the conference may create real difference in your work and design your program to get the best connections and learning that you can. Learning for learning’s sake is always a good thing, but it’s better when you are able to take real, tangible benefit in your day job from that learning.

Many thanks to the BSC for the opportunity to attend, and to all the awesome people who made me feel comfortable there.

Originally posted on thinkingblueline.com

Contact:

Gareth Stubbs

Email: Gareth.Stubbs@lancashire.pnn.police.uk

 

Image: courtesy of the author

Travelling without a map: conference drifting

Conferences like the BSC are more a circle than a straight line; they move ahead, certainly, but at their best they also circle back such that each generation benefits from the one before it and assists the one after.

Stefania Armasu,  Elaine de Vos,  Rhiannon Lovell, Liam Miles, and Jeff Ferrell

There are many things adrift about being a student at an academic conference. We exist centrally in an environment where PhD funding and jobs in academia are scarce but are marginal to mainstream academic activities. So, faced with the knowledge that the annual BSC conference was to be held at Birmingham City University, our current educational home, it was clear that by volunteering to assist, we would gain an opportunity to be in the company of leading academics in the field. As the saying goes, “fortune favours the bold” and some early doors, casual conversations led to the opportunity to write this blog, not as a disparate group of students who had drifted along to the conference, but as an interconnected (if liminal) group together with Jeff Ferrell, one of the keynote speakers. In keeping with Ferrell’s concept of intensities of ephemeral association (Ferrell, 2018: 18), the brevity of our student guide relationships was countered by the intensity of the immersive experience of spending 12+ hours a day together, connected by our yellow ‘student guide’ t-shirts, knowing that by the end of the week, we would once again drift apart.

The opportunity to conduct a mini ethnography of the inner sanctum of the BSC conference felt therefore like a major coup. With our own primary fields of interest including ethnography, cultural criminology and deviant leisure, to attend the keynotes of both Thomas Raymen and Jeff Ferrell was like turning up to the local pub for an open mike night and discovering Dave Grohl and David Bowie taking turns. It was fantastic to see that the conference theme of ‘Transforming Criminology’ not only encompassed a wave of ultra-realist speakers but also a predominance of female criminologists. Women won every prize awarded during the conference, so can we fully subscribe to the assertion that the world of criminology is still ‘too male’ or is the BSC an island of equality in what Frances Heidensohn (the BSC Outstanding Achievement Award winner) has described as ‘Lonely uncharted seas’? The conference did however seem ‘quite pale’. Was this due to lack of opportunity or a sense of exclusion? All we can offer as students, new to the discipline, is that we felt welcomed and embraced by all those who took the time to talk to the ‘yellow shirts’ and the experience was truly transformative.

Despite our previous engagement with academia (one of the authors of this blog had worked with David Wilson on the documentary ‘Voice of a serial killer’), it was at times overwhelming. We all experienced the feeling of imposter syndrome but it did not take too long for this feeling to wane. From the very beginning, delegates were friendly, open, and always up for a discussion regarding our interests, plans for the future, and experience of the conference, offering their own insights and advice. The conference allowed us to attend panels on subjects we already had interest in, and subjects we had not even considered. We realised while attending these panels that we were not imposters, and that is why we were not treated as such. The panels, the keynotes, and the conversations allowed us to see that criminology is a broad, far reaching discipline that is constantly transforming and evolving, and so therefore, should its criminologists. The warmth of the welcome received from other volunteers, delegates and lecturing staff at BCU, made us soon feel included and inspired to further develop skills and progress in criminology and academia.

This eagerness of the delegates to engage intellectually with the student volunteers can be traced to the delegates’ gratitude for the hard work and kind assistance of the volunteers, and to the pleasure delegates take in being able to have open-ended, informal discussions with aspiring criminologists outside the confines of the classroom. But it can be traced to something else as well: the fact that the delegates were once students themselves, equally overwhelmed by the conference experience and afflicted with the same sort of imposter syndrome. As difficult as it may be to imagine, even the most senior scholar was at some time in the past a young student of criminology, reliant on the guidance of older scholars, and inspired by their work and their careers. In that sense, disciplines like criminology and conferences like the BSC are more a circle than a straight line; they move ahead, certainly, but at their best they also circle back such that each generation benefits from the one before it and assists the one after.

The conference itself was well organised and it ran in a way which provided opportunities to meet with delegates, talk about their research and consider future applications of critical theory. After hearing talks given by Simon Winlow and Danielle Balach Warman based on their ethnographies and research, we were inspired even further. It seems that a new generation of academics, from 19 upwards, have all been truly inspired to take the baton of criminology and academia, and to meet the aims of this 2018 British Society of Criminology conference, to ‘transform criminology’.

We still cannot believe how much knowledge we have gained in such a short time and we now know such knowledge to be a fundamental part of a national conference such as the BSC. But most importantly, the conference ignited our passion and, if there was ever any doubt about whether this was the career we wanted to pursue, we are now more certain than ever that we want to be part of this. We want to conduct research, we want to teach, and we want to make a change through our work in the same way that most of the academics that took part in the event do.

To truly transform criminology, it is clear that there is a need to break free from the tethers created in part by the commodification of academia which has led to the constant regurgitation of theory, and to create new theoretical frameworks that are less bound to, and constrained by, the previous legal definitions of crime. By enabling the student helpers or ‘yellow shirts’ to jump on the metaphorical freight train with the ascendant greats and established legends of the discipline as equals, new possibilities never previously imagined, not bound by time or place have become apparent to all of us. By travelling for a while, without a map and not really knowing where we were going to end up, we all emerge from the conference as more enthused, more invigorated criminologists. In this sense, we’ve concluded that a conference like the BSC demands of its participants – and especially its student participants – a fine balance between respect and reinvention. Certainly mutual respect among all participants is essential, as is appreciation for the contributions made by established scholars. But equally important is reinvention; that is, a willingness on the part of students and young scholars to explore perspectives outside their immediate field of study, a dedication to critical engagement with existing ideas, and a passion for the development of new criminological models. The ongoing vitality of the discipline depends on it.

Reference

Ferrell, J. (2018). Drift. Oakland, Calif.: University of California Press.

Authors

Stefania Armasu is 21 and has just received a first class honours in her undergraduate degree at BCU and is hoping to continue with a Masters in September.

Elaine de Vos is 46 and nearing the completion of a Masters in Criminology at BCU.

Rhiannon Lovell is 22 and nearing the completion of a Masters in Criminology at BCU.

Liam Miles is 19 and has just completed his first year as an undergraduate in Criminology at BCU.

Jeff Ferrell is 64 and is a professor of sociology at TCU and a visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent.

 

Image: courtesy of the authors – pictured Stefania Armasu, Liam Miles, Jeff Ferrell, Elaine de Vos.

 

Thoughts from the British Society of Criminology conference at Birmingham City University

as criminologists and educators, we need to review the quality of methods of teaching to keep students engaged, but crucially, not to lose sight of the importance of the content

Susie AthertonThis article was originally posted on the ‘Thoughts from the Criminology Team‘ blog at University of Northampton and is kindly reproduced with the permission of the author.

I attended the BSC conference last week, presenting a paper from my PhD research, doing the usual rounds of seeing familiar faces, meeting some new faces and hoping nobody uttered the words ‘well its more of an observation than a question’. There was one session which particularly inspired me and so is the focus of this blog. The key theme was that as criminologists and educators, we need to review the quality of methods of teaching to keep students engaged, but crucially, not to lose sight of the importance of the content. We must continue to introduce students to more challenging ideas and shift their thinking from accepted wisdom of how to ‘do justice’ and ‘why people commit crime’.

The session attended was on ‘Public Criminology’, which included papers on the experiences of LGBTQ communities in Turkey, with regards to police response to victimisation, another on the use of social media and other forms of broadcast used by academics on criminology programmes, the impact of the 2011 riots on social capital in the UK and the need to re-introduce political issues in teaching criminology. As with many sessions at large conferences, you never quite know what will emerge from the range of papers, and you hope there are some common themes for the panel and delegate to engage with in discussions. This certainly happened here, in what seems to be a diverse range of topics, we generated interesting discussions about how we understand crime and justice, how the public understand this, what responsibilities we have in teaching the next generation and how important it is to retain our critical focus. The paper that really resonated with me was delivered by Marc Jacobs from the University of Portsmouth on ‘The Myopia of Public Criminology and the need for a (re) Politicised Criminology Education’.  Marc was an engaging speaker and made a clear point about the need to continue our focus on the work of activist criminologists, who emerged during the 1970s, asking important questions about class, race and gender issues. He cited scholars such as Jock Young, Stuart Hall, Frances Heidensohn as pioneers in shining a light on the need to understand crime and justice from these diverse perspectives.

This is certainly what I remember from studying criminology as a post-graduate, and they have informed my teaching, especially criminological theories – I have always had a closer personal affinity with sociological perspectives, compared to biological and psychological explanations of crime. It also reminded me of a running theme of complaint from some students – political issues are not as interesting as say, examining the motivations of serial killers, neither are those lectures which link class, race and gender to crime, and which highlight how discrimination in society is reflected in who commits crime, why they do it, and why we respond the way we do. There is no doubt presenting students with the broader social, political and cultural contexts means they need to see the problem of crime as a reflection of these contexts, that is does not happen as a rare event which we can always predict and solve. It happens every day, is not always reported, let alone detected and solved, meaning that many people can experience crime, but may not experience justice.

As tempting as it might be to focus teaching and engage students through examining the motivation for serious crimes to reinforce students’ expectations of criminology being about offender profiling and CSI techniques which solve cases and allow us all to sleep safely, I’m afraid this means neglecting something which will affect their lives when they do look up from the fascinating case files. I am not advocating the exclusion of any knowledge, far from it, but we need to ensure that we continue to inform students about the foundations of our discipline, and that it is the every day events and the lack of access to justice which they also need to know about. They reflect the broader inequalities which feed into the incidences of crime, the discriminatory policies and practice in the CJS, and the acceptance of this by the public. Rawls (1971) presented justice as a ‘stabilising force’, a premise picked up by New Labour in their active citizenship and neighbourhood renewal agenda. There was an attempt to shift justice away from punitive and retributive responses, to make use of approaches which were more effective, more humane and less discriminatory. The probation services and courts were an important focus, using restorative and problem-solving approaches to genuinely implement Tony Blair’s manifesto promise to be tough on the causes of crime. However, he also continued the rhetoric of being tough on crime, and so there was sense of using community sentencing and community justice in a tokenistic way, and not tackling the broader inequalities and problems sufficiently to allow the CJS to have a more transformative and socially meaningful effect on crime (Donoghue, 2014; Ward, 2014). Since then, the punitive responses to crime have returned, accepted by the public, press and politicians, as anything else is simply too difficult a problem to solve, and requires meaningful and sustained investment. This has been a feature of community justice, half hearted attempts to innovate and adopt different approaches, all too easily overtaken by the need for a day in court and a custodial sentence. It shows what happens when the public accept this as justice and the function of the CJS, even though they are not effective, put the public at risk, and mean entrenched biases continue to occur.

This all emphasises the need to remember the foundations of our discipline as a critical examination of criminal justice and of society. In my own department, we have the debates about where we place theory as part of these foundations. These discussions occur in the context of how to engage students and maintain our focus on this, and it remains an important part of higher education to review practice, content and adapt to broader changes. Moving to a new campus means we have to re-think these issues in the context of the delivery of teaching, and I am all for innovations in teaching to engage students, making use of new technologies, but I firmly believe we need to retain our focus on the content which will challenge students. This is the point of higher education, to advance knowledge, to raise students’ expectations of their own potential and ask them to rethink what they know. The focus on ‘public criminology’ has justified using different forms of broadcast, from TV, tabloid press and social networking to disseminate knowledge and, hopefully, better inform the public, as a counter measure to biased reporting.  I don’t think it is desirable to TV producers to replace ‘I am a Killer’ on the Crime and Investigation network with ‘Adventures of a Problem-Solving Court’ or ‘Restorative Justice: The Facts’. Writing for the tabloid press seems to me an act of futility, as they have editorial control, they can easily misrepresent findings, and are not really interested in anything which shifts the notion of justice as needing to have a deterrent effect and to be a retributive act. Perhaps social networking can overcome this bias, but in an age of claims of fake news and echo chambers, this surely also has a limited affect. So, our focus must remain on our students, to those who will work within the CJS, social policy departments as practitioners, researchers and future academics. They need to continue to raise the debates about crime and justice which affect the marginalised, which highlight prejudice, discrimination and which ensure we continue to ask questions about these thorny, difficult and controversial issues. That, I think, is the responsibility we need to grasp, and it should form a core function of learning about criminology and criminal justice at University.

 

DONOGHUE, J. (2014) Transforming Criminal Justice? Problem-solving and court specialisation. London: Routledge.

RAWLS, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

WARD, J. (2014) Are problem-solving courts the way forward for justice? London: Howard League for Penal Reform.

 

Contact

Susie Atherton, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Northampton

Email: susieath@live.co.uk

Twitter: @SusieAtherton

 

Image: courtesy of the author

Conference Update

A message from the Birmingham City Conference Committee.

This year’s British Society of Criminology annual conference, which is to be hosted in Birmingham City University’s brand new city centre campus, is truly living up to its theme: Transforming Criminology.

With regard to the Post Graduate Conference, which is being organised by Dr Aidan O’Sullivan, brand new and innovative masterclasses will be held including:

  • Meet the Editors and Getting Published;
  • Geese Theatre and rehabilitation through the Arts;
  • Dealing with the media (including guest talks from under cover journalist Donal MacIntyre and Times crime correspondent John Simpson);
  • Preparing for the VIVA; and
  • Applying for academic positions.

We are also transforming how postgraduates engage with the conference, with delegates now presenting their ongoing or planned research to other postgraduate representatives. This is based on feedback from previous conferences in which postgraduate delegates wished to engage and contribute more to the conference programme. We also have two exciting key notes for the postgraduate conference, with the internationally renowned Emeritus Professor David Wilson and Dr Thomas Raymen (early-career researcher and the co-founder of the deviant leisure research network). The postgraduate social event will also take place in the Eagle and Ball, a Victorian pub that offers a unique new home to the Students Union and was built between 1840 and 1850.

This theme of transformation also permeates into the main conference, with keynote addresses from Professor Yvonne Jewkes, Dr Ben Crewe, Professor Jeff Farrell and Professor Michael Levi. In keeping with the conference theme of transforming criminology, Edmond Clark will be attending BSC 2018 as a keynote speaker. During Clarke’s residency at HMP Grendon (Ikon’s artist-in-residence 2014-2018) he immersed himself within the routines of the prison and engaged in-depth with inmates, prison officers and therapeutic staff alike. Enthused by the unique insight into the essence of Grendon and bound by the constraints of detailing the identity of inmates and security infrastructure, Clark’s work responds by exploring the notions of visibility, trauma and self-image.

We are also excited to bring our brand new Grendon Panel to your attention. This panel will include the Governor of HMP Grendon Dr Jamie Bennett and Chartered Forensic Psychologist and Head of Clinical Services at HMP Grendon Richard Shuker. This panel will also include two former residents of HMP Grendon including: Noel “Razor” Smith, who after being released in 2010 went to work for Inside Times and has published seven books, and Doug Sharpe, who after being released in 2017 now gives lectures to the next generation of students working towards careers within the Criminal Justice System.

In continuing the theme of rehabilitation, Geese Theatre – a company of theatre practitioners who work closely with the probation service, prisons, young offender institutions, and youth offending teams – will also be hosting an Arts and Rehabilitation panel (more speakers to be confirmed).

The main conference dinner will be at Edgbaston stadium. Opened in 1882, it serves as the home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club and the Birmingham Bears T20 side. They also regularly hold international matches, and are a frequent stop on the Ashes tour when it is held in the UK.

We are also delighted to announce that we are receiving abstracts from all over the world including North America, Australia, Nigeria, Taiwan and New Zealand. This year’s conference is fast becoming a truly international and transformative event and we look to forward to seeing you all in July! Below we have added a link to the conference website and a breakdown of some of the key dates.

All the best from the Birmingham City Conference Committee.

 

Contact

Website

Email: Admin2018BSC@bcu.ac.uk

Twitter: @BCU_BSC2018

Facebook: BSC Conf

Call for Abstracts closes: May 28, 2018

Conference Registration closes: June 25, 2018

 

Copyright free image: from the authors

The Pleasures (and Pains) of Hosting a BSC Annual Conference

Organising the British Society of Criminology annual conference is a huge job, but the task is more rewarding than you think

Conference2017_longVHeap

Dr Vicky Heap is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Fellow of the Sheffield Institute for Policy Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. Vicky conducts research and lectures in the areas of anti-social behaviour, crime prevention and research methods, and is Editor of Safer Communities journal.

We hosted the British Society of Criminology annual conference at Sheffield Hallam University in 2017. This blog reflects on my experience of leading the organising committee for the BSC’s annual showpiece, giving an insight into the ups and downs of the process – and debunking a few myths along the way.

It’s certainly not a myth that organising the BSC conference takes a LOT of work. However, there were some real high-points. The thing that stood out to me the most was the willingness of the criminological community to engage with the conference, at all levels of proceedings. We secured some amazing plenary speakers who, aside from doing the business when it came to their talks, were also particularly efficient at providing all the required admin information. This may seem like a minor point, but the small things make a big difference to an organisational process that has numerous component parts. Similarly, when putting together the Masterclasses, invited speakers were keen to be involved and were truly innovative in their approaches to the sessions. The same can be said for the presenters invited to participate in the Postgraduate Conference. In total, 11 external and 8 Sheffield Hallam speakers delivered the workshops and they were ably supported by the BSC Postgraduate Committee, who chaired all the sessions. The level of assistance and encouragement provided by the BSC was second to none, with plenty of questions answered by previous hosts, especially by the folks from Plymouth. Coupled with the incredible support from our events team and student helpers, we had a huge team invested in putting together the best possible conference. This administrative support and commitment was matched by the enthusiasm of both presenters and delegates. We welcomed 332 criminologists from 13 countries to Sheffield across the four days, and it was great to see so many people. It felt like a friendly conference too, evidenced by the 50+ criminologists from around the world partying together until 4am on the night of the conference dinner!

SHU_party

I can’t deny it, there was the odd personal perk associated with being part of the organising committee. I am probably one of the few academics that does not drink coffee, so when it came to planning the ACJS sponsored refreshments I asked the events team to see if we could provide something a little bit different. I love fizzy drinks, doughnuts, cookies, and generally anything that’s bad for you! Fortunately for me, our chef agreed to create a bespoke set of refreshments for that slot, which were served from market stalls alongside the postgraduate poster event. The ice-cold drinks went down well on what was a stiflingly hot day and my dream of a non-coffee-centred refreshment break came true!

SHU_conference

On a more serious note, putting together the main conference programme was one of the most difficult tasks. First, we had to peer review the abstract submissions and we had a team of five people working on this between January and April and I can dispel this rumour once and for all: not all abstracts are accepted! Once we had our final set of panels and papers, we had to populate five parallel sessions across the three days of the main conference. Unlike other conferences which stipulate you must attend the whole event, the BSC conference affords a greater degree of flexibility by offering a range of delegate packages. This is where it gets tricky for the organisers, as we had to match up the programme to the registrations. Most delegates came to the whole conference, but there were high numbers of single day attendees too. On top of this, we received over fifty individual requests for specific time slots or times that had to be avoided because of things like transport constraints. We also had to think about spacing out the panel themes to avoid duplication, put single papers into appropriate panels (trickier than you’d think), and make sure there were a similar number of panels in each parallel session. It took me and Jaime Waters, who is the most logical-thinking and organised person I know, three long days, copious post-it notes and a massive table to finally piece the jigsaw together.

SHU_abstracts

The issue of presentation slot requests relates to a major feature of the planning process that potential conference organisers should be prepared for; your email inbox will explode! This is from a combination of internal emails from your organising committee, events team, website administrator et al., as well as emails from external delegates. In the six to eight weeks leading up to the conference I was probably dealing with an average of 50-60 conference emails per day. The final aspect to be aware of as a would-be conference organiser is to expect the unexpected. As with any large-scale event, there is the potential for things to go wrong. There were a few hair-raising moments along the way, which I can look back on now with a wry smile. One scary instance came the day before the printing deadline for the conference handbook when we realised that for some unknown reason, the punctuation in the abstract submissions had not pulled-through from the online submission point into the conference handbook itself. This resulted in eight members of the events team hastily going through each abstract and inserting every comma, apostrophe and full-stop at break-neck speed. Another example of people going above and beyond to ensure the conference was delivered as planned.

Overall, leading the conference organising committee was an interesting and valuable experience on numerous levels. At least if my academic career doesn’t go according to plan I’ve now got the offer to go and work for our events team. So, if I mysteriously disappear after the next REF, you’ll know where to find me! There were a few stressful moments, but seeing the event run as we had envisaged was really rewarding as well as a massive relief. To witness the global criminological community come together to share their expertise and passion for our discipline made it all worth it. If you are thinking of putting a bid together to host a future conference – go for it! There will always be people willing to help you out and you can certainly count on my support.

Contact

Dr Vicky Heap, Sheffield Hallam University

Email: v.heap@shu.ac.uk  

Twitter: @DrVickyHeap

Copyright free images: from author